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Earth, water, and fire are the elements of pottery. Many Native potters believe creating vessels are an opportunity to bond with the land and with the past. Clay vessels have been made for storage and household use in indigenous Southwest societies for nearly two thousand years. Archeologists believe Southwest pottery originated in Mexico and South America and slowly moved north, generation by generation, tribe to tribe. It has been observed that pottery augmented basketry around 800 AD, as pottery was faster and easier to produce than baskets. Pottery is a complex art form to master. It requires learning a complex series of tasks and knowing how materials will react to firing.
Each cultural group developed its own unique style and form of decoration. Prehistoric Pueblo pottery was created for two main uses. Corrugated and grayware vessels were typically made locally for community everyday use, cooking, water and seed storage. Painted vessels were likely used for ceremonies and food serving. Vessels were painted with pigments made from residues of boiled plants or finely ground minerals from rocks. Decorated pottery was exchanged between villages and this trading illuminated patterns of social interaction between groups hundreds of miles away.
After the migration of Ancestral Puebloan people from the Four Corners area, their pottery continued to change over time. By the end of the historic period, pottery in some native homes had been replaced by manufactured goods like metal, glass, or crockery that arrived out west by train. After WWII, native pottery became more widely recognized and encouraged a revitalization of the craft. This revitalization also demonstrated that pottery could be a source of income to help sustain native communities.
Dee Ann was born into the Mexican clan, but she was raised by her step father, whose clan is Coyote Pass. She moved to Cameron when she got married in 1983. Dee Ann started making pottery about 25 years ago when a lady from Window Rock couldn’t keep up with orders and asked Dee Ann if she could learn the craft and help her complete the orders. She was taught how to make pots, but it took several months to catch on and for her interest to grow, but Dee Ann would eventually teach her kids the art of making pottery and they continue to have a passion for this art form.
Damon was raised in Buffalo Springs, New Mexico. He was originally inspired to become a sculptor after reading about an artist named Allen Houser, but was instead swayed towards pottery by a ceramics instructor. He enjoyed working with clay so much that he decided to dedicate his energy towards creating pots and has been doing so for more than sixteen years. He originally used commercial clay, but changed to the traditional method of gathering the clay himself from the land. He also fires his pots in a traditional manner, using wood as a heat source instead of a kiln.
Emerson was raised in Polacca and growing up, he was taught some of the basics such as how to mold, sand, and polish the pottery by his grandmother, Eleanor Ami. He says if it weren’t for his grandmother, Mark Tahbo, and his wife Dorothy he would not have begun creating pots. In his spare time, Emerson has been crafting Hopi pottery for about 20 years. Emerson has reached a point in his life where he is finally able to concentrate fully on creating artwork and step away from his previous occupation.
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Renee belongs to the Sun Clan and is from Moenkopi Village. She has been creating pottery for nearly 30 years. The one person who has had the greatest influence on her work was Ethel Youvella, an elder from First Mesa. She helped her from the beginning to become the potter she is today. She draws her inspiration from Ethel, discovering pottery shards, her Hopi Culture, other artists, and her family. She creates traditional Hopi utilitarian pottery by digging her own clay, preparing it, and firing it herself.
Delaine is full-blooded Hopi, from the First Mesa village of Sichomovi. “Dee” is of the Ash/ Roadrunner clan (Sand Girl) and is the great-granddaughter of the Chief of First Mesa. Dee has been making pottery since she was a little girl. She learned her skills by watching family clan ladies, who shared their knowledge and designs with her. Her family designs date back hundreds of years.
Karen is a member of the Kachina/Parrot clan and comes from a Tewa family that has passed the skill of pottery down for generations. She forms pottery the traditional way, hand-coiling large pottery and shaping it with a small smooth piece of gourd. Karen uses natural paints she processes and fires her pots with sheep manure. Karen is known for her Shard Pots, decorated with many designs she has replicated from pot shards she has discovered from the old ruin village of Sikatki.
Gwen comes from a family of potters who have passed down the skill from generation to generation. Her family taught her how to gather and process the clay, prepare paints, and fire the finished product with sheep dung. Her designs come from the old pottery shards found in the villages of Awatowi and Kawikaa. Gwen creates very fine-lined designs that compliment her yucca handled canteens and wedding vases. Gwen shares a strong commitment to preserving traditional Hopi pottery by teaching pottery demonstrations and lectures.
Dorothy began to seriously create pottery starting in 1996 by learning from her cousin, Mark Tahbo. Her husband Emerson, later learned the craft from her. Each of their pieces is built in the traditional coil method, stone-polished and painted with natural clay pigments. The pottery is then fired outside with cedar wood and sheep manure. Dorothy says, "History and tradition are what we are trying to keep alive. Each piece we create is spirituality and creativity all rolled into one."
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Bobby is a member of the Hopi tribe, from the village of Bacavi. He has been creating pottery since he was 14 years old. Bobby credits his godfather, Kevin Navaste, as being the person who taught him the most about making pottery, and Bobby describes him as a person full of knowledge and wisdom. Bobby’s inspiration for his pottery designs comes from prehistoric Hopi wares dating back to about 500 years ago – known as skiyatki polychrome. In addition to making pottery, he also is a basket weaver.
Evvy is from the village of Mungapi near Tuba City, AZ, and has been creating pottery and weaving baskets for 28 years. Evvy was taught that everything she needs to create both pots and baskets is provided by Mother Earth. She says, “I am very grateful for each day and I try to always look for the positive in every situation. I respect Mother Earth and love where I live.”
Eileen, a Zuni Pueblo tribal member, began making pottery in 1973 at the age of 13. She collects and processes her own natural clays, minerals, pigments, and plants in the traditional Zuni manner. She continues to use the traditional methods her great grandmother, Catalina Zunie, and her grandmother, Margaret Walela, used to produce traditional Zuni pottery. Eileen was taught by the late Zuni elder potter Josephine Nahohai and her sons Milford and Randy. She has also gained knowledge from accomplished potters such as the late Hopi potter Daisy Nampeyo Hooee and Acoma potter Jennie Laate. Her late grandfather, Clarence Calavaza, taught her Zuni prayers associated with pottery making. Since 1985, she has traveled throughout the U.S. to study and research collections of Zuni pottery. Eileen continues to pass along her knowledge through demonstrations, lectures, and teachings.
Carlos was born in Zuni, NM. He learned pottery making by observing and listening to his step-grandmother, Daisy Hooee. Carlos has been making pottery since 1989 and his technique continues to improve. His design elements include the traditional motifs such as deer house, rosettes, rainbirds, lines curves, and geometrics.
Noreen learned pottery making at Zuni High School in 1977. She continued mastering her skill and by 1990, she started instructing the classes at the school. Her unique pottery combines traditional symbols with contemporary design elements. The scenes depicted on her work often stress the universal harmony that should be maintained among living things.